Morrison flew, at taxpayers’ expense, to the Gold Coast to attend the Australian Christian Churches (ACC) national conference and gave a speech. This led to numerous online discussions about the fact of the speech, that a transcript was not publicly released by the Prime Minister’s Office, and subsequently, the content of the speech.
In an online discussion on April 28, an interlocutor asked of David Crowe (Chief political correspondent, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age):
“Do you know what Pentecostals actually believe? Because if you do, can you explain your assertion that they should be respected? Thank you.”
Crowe replied with:
“Try replacing “Pentecostals” with “Hindu” or “Bhuddhist” [sic]. Of course people should be respected.”1
He also gave a link to an article he had written for the Sydney Morning Herald entitled “Time for tolerance on Morrison’s faith but time to be upfront as well”2.
A few days later someone else replied to Crowe with:
“Alternatively, try replacing “shallow analogy” with actual analysis. Instead of a ridiculous knee-jerk order to ‘respect’ some set of beliefs just [because] they call themselves a religion, let’s look at the actual beliefs and bestow respect accordingly.”1
It is hard to disagree.
In his article, Crowe did note that Morrison flew to the Gold Coast for the ACC national conference at taxpayers’ expense3, and that the speech was not released by his office, but that a video of it was later made public by the advocacy group Rationalists Australia2. Not long after the video appeared, someone transcribed it and shared it about.
Crowe believed that it was a shame the speech was not released, “because Australians want to know more about what makes their Prime Minister the man he is”. I don’t think we need a speech to a group of the religious to know what sort of man Morrison is. He is a person who lies incessantly, announces myriad ‘plans’ without ever following through, abrogates responsibility as much as possible, never accepts blame for anything, gleefully accepts plaudits for others’ efforts, never apologises for anything, and avoids answering questions if they are in any way difficult. That is the sort of man he is; a malevolent spiv, not unlike Donald Trump.
Crowe rightly understands that Morrison’s secretive speech was “about narrowcasting. Morrison wants to speak directly to people of faith without risking a wider conversation with Australians who might be confronted by what he believes”2. It is an attempt to shore up any support he has with the ‘modern christians’ to try to retain power. ‘Modern christians’ are those who have jettisoned any pretence of believing the supposed words of Jesus and replacing them with the prosperity gospel, which is all about power and money.
Crowe continued in saying that the strong response made Morrison’s office’s reluctance to release the speech understandable and said: “Those who dislike Morrison’s politics felt entitled to mock his beliefs and malign his church even though we live in a society that is meant to respect freedom of religion.”
There are two main assertions of Crowe’s which need to be addressed.
Firstly, in his tweet in which he suggests replacing Pentecostal with “Hindu or Bhuddhist [sic]”, he apparently conflates a belief with a person who holds that belief. I usually treat people with respect and I have worked, and am working, with a few people who have very strong religious beliefs, and I deal with them professionally and courteously, the same way they treat me. They know I am an atheist and do not attempt in any way to push their beliefs on me, and I do not ridicule their beliefs. However, if they did attempt to push their beliefs on me, I would tell them very clearly what I think of those beliefs. Unlike Crowe, I do not conflate the person with their belief.
Secondly, Crowe seems to think that attacking such beliefs as Morrison has, is an attack on freedom of religion. It is not. Many people believe all sorts of things; that having a black cat cross your path is bad luck; that luck actually exists; that Bill Gates has inserted chips into Covid-19 vaccines for mind control; that the world is run by a cabal of billionaire paedophiles; that thousands of children have been kept against their will in tunnels beneath Melbourne; that the earth is flat; that the Covid-19 pandemic is a hoax; that all good christians will be raptured up to heaven when Jesus ‘returns’; and that a god who created the universe is extremely interested in what every single person does in their everyday lives, especially when their trousers are off. Nobody stops people believing such drivel. It is just that people like me just tend to argue against the idiocy of such beliefs when they raise their silly head above the parapet. Crowe almost seems not to have noticed that Morrison is religious and is, at the same time, the Prime Minister. Given that attacks on beliefs have been happening for many years, and if they are an attack on freedom of religion, then they have been singularly unsuccessful.
What I find galling is that the religious seem to believe they deserve respect simply because they are religious; because they have ‘faith’. It is far beyond time to reverse this idea that religious ‘faith’ intrinsically deserves respect, and that it should be protected by custom or, as some would have, by law, against criticism and ridicule. Indeed, “to believe something in the face of evidence and against reason – to believe something by faith – is ignoble, irresponsible and ignorant, and merits the opposite of respect. It is time to say so”4. Believing something despite evidence and reason is what climate change denialism is all about; believing climate change is untrue despite decades of evidence which reason tells us is endangering human and other life on this planet.
Although it has been asserted time and again, especially by Australian christians, that they are under threat of discrimination; they are not. Indeed, Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states:
“The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”6
I know the Constitution does not mean much to the current crop of conservatives, as demonstrated by their lack of attention to Section 44 and by their enforcing the recital of Lord’s Prayer at the opening of parliament, an appeal to the High Court would squash any legislative discrimination against the religious or forced observance by them, as the High Court is the final arbiter of the Constitution. What concerns the religious most is that they may lose their privilege, power and influence. The religious do not want to protect their ‘religious freedom’, they want to entrench their privilege and want to do it through legislation. The privilege they wish to entrench includes the ability to discriminate against people they do not like, and the ability to utter hate speech6,7.
At base, what concerns the religious most is the decline in religion around the world and their coming decline into irrelevance and with it, ridicule of them. Their privilege is of such longstanding that they cannot contemplate being without it. It scares the bejesus out of them.